Rita Donaghy on making misogyny a hate crime
Monday sees the start of White Ribbon Week – an opportunity to highlight the ongoing global campaign to end the harassment of, and violence against women and girls. And I will be using my oral question in the House of Lords to press the government to accept a now two-year-old Law Commission report that recommends making misogyny a hate crime.
Seven police forces have already accepted that misogyny is a hate crime, and the statistics are worryingly high. In just three years, Avon and Somerset police reported over 800 gender hate crimes – with just under 90% against women. These included various forms of violence, as well as Public Order Offences such as threatening or abusive behaviour, arson, and criminal damage. This is not about wolf-whistling.
According to the White Ribbon campaign, one in five British men think feminism has gone “too far” – but misogyny can also be a gateway to wider divisions in society. A Hope not Hate report shows that some young men who interact online with Men’s’ Rights activists can find themselves on the first step to more extreme racist or far right groups and start to regard more rights for anyone – people of colour, people with disabilities, the LGBT community – as a threat to their own status.
Such groups objectify and dehumanise women and girls. They radicalise young men who go on to commit acts of aggression designed to intimidate, humiliate, and control women. Laura Bates, in her book Men Who Hate Women, refers to the vast and growing online networks of ‘alt right’ extremists, ‘incels’, and ‘pick up artists’ whose profoundly misogynistic and racist beliefs are having a substantially negative impact on women’s real life experiences.
According to the Home Office, the number of hate crimes reported to police in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2013, with a total of 103,379 in 2018-19. The majority were racial and some of the increase can be explained by improvements in crime recording. But other trends are emerging and during the pre-summer lockdown in response to Covid, incidents of violence and abuse of women soared – both in the home and in the streets.
Professor Penney Lewis, the criminal law Commissioner, has said “Hate crime has no place in our society and we have seen the terrible impact that it can have on victims”. Citizens UK, meanwhile, conducted a survey of 1,000 people in England and Wales which showed that 45% of women had been threatened with sexual violence.
The Law Commission report proposes that sex or gender should be made a protected characteristic in hate crime laws, primarily to protect women. The current consultation, which closes on 24 December, is on whether sex or gender should only cover women or men as well. Once the consultation is over, the government should act quickly to ensure national recognition of misogyny as a hate crime and take steps to properly address the growing abuse taking place online.
Baroness Rita Donaghy is a Labour Peer
Published 22nd November 2020